As expressions of guilt and remorse go, Mark McGwire's long overdue admission that he was on steroids when he broke baseball's single season home run record was about as surprising as O.J. Simpson coming clean on the Nicole Brown/Ron Goldman murders(which O.J. hasn't yet confessed to because he was too busy looking for the "real killer" on different golf courses and aboard various cruise ships before going to the can for armed robbery, kidnapping etc.).
The circumstantial evidence that something was chemically amiss in baseball has existed for years, primarily in the form of before-and-after photographs of McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and other home run hitters whose physical transformation from lean, mean hitting machines to freak show colossi makes those old Charles Atlas comic book ads credible by comparison. (If you're too young to remember, get a load of this).
Which brings us Popeye. While he's technically fictional and as such has never had to answer to the same standards of integrity by which McGwire must abide, that doesn't lessen Popeye's impact as a role model. Take it from me. As a skinny, bespectacled kid who got picked on in elementary school in the 1960s, I bought into Popeye and the power of spinach, right up until the first time I choked down a couple of cans of the stuff, picked a fight with Eddie Martin, who was about 17 and had muttonchop sideburns in Grade 5, and got the living daylights beaten out of me.
So there I am, with my broken glasses hanging sideways off my face and blood spattered all over my "Feelin' Groovy" t-shirt, feeling completely betrayed by a pipe-smoking cartoon sailor with one good eye and alarmingly disproportionate forearms. Look, I know it's my own fault, and even as a kid with a wild imagination I was usually pretty good at separating the real from the unreal. I never shot myself out of a cannon to catch a roadrunner, and I knew that when my Dad flew out of town on business, he wasn't on a pterodactyl. But I really dropped the ball on the Popeye thing, because spinach is real, it's good for you, and Popeye always won the day against Bluto and always got the chick (such as she was - somebody get that broad a pork chop).
Here's the irony of the whole thing: if Mark McGwire had laid off the steroids and eaten spinach, he still would have had a productive major league baseball career and retired with his honor and reputation intact. If I had taken steroids instead of eating spinach in Grade 5, I probably would have kicked the shit out of Eddie Martin. It's a wiggly world.